No. 720 - Cygnet - Congregational Church (1879-1890) 'No money for kerosene'

Cygnet is a small coastal town situated about 70 kilometres south of Hobart. It is named after the adjacent bay of Port Cygnet which was 'discovered' by D'Entrecasteaux and named ‘Port des Cygne’ (meaning the port or harbour of swans). The settlement was known as Port Cygnet until 1895 when it was changed to Lovett. In 1915 the town’s name was changed again becoming Cygnet.

In 1875 a ‘special correspondent’ for the Hobart Mercury published an article titled “The Huon District: Its Conditions and Wants”. The report contains a detailed description of the settlement at Port Cygnet including the religious life of the inhabitants:

“The houses of Port Cygnet, nearly all built of wood, are somewhat scattered, but the nucleus of the township consists of some thirty or forty tenements clustered near the head of the bay, and containing, perhaps, a hundred and fifty inhabitants. Here all the business of the town is transacted. There are two hotels (one near the wharf, kept by Mr. John Russell, and the other at the junction of the Cradock road, by Mr. William Allen), four stores (the storekeepers being also butchers), one jam manufactory, two small brick yards, three shoemakers, two carpenters, three blacksmiths, two bakers, and representatives of one or two other handicrafts. But though the population of the township itself is comparatively small, Port Cygnet is the centre of a large and flourishing district, dependent upon it for supplies….Port Cygnet was formerly a penal station, no fewer than six hundred or seven hundred convicts having been located there at one time. But none of the prison buildings remain, excepting the Old Bush Inn, now turned into private residences, and the large assembly room behind the Port Cygnet Hotel….Coming now to religious and educational establishments, there are in Port Cygnet an Anglican and a Roman Catholic Church and two schools, one under the Board of Education and the other a private establishment recently opened under the auspices of the Catholic community. The Anglican Church is a new structure, and has not yet been formally consecrated to divine worship. At present the Church of England service is held only once a month in the schoolroom,… The Roman Catholic Church was also built by private subscription, ….Methodists and Independents are also well represented at Port Cygnet. Their services are generally conducted by lay preachers in private buildings...”.

Within four years of the ‘special correspondent’s report, Congregational and Methodist churches were built at Port Cygnet. In October 1875 the Mercury reported on an excursion from Hobart by steamship for the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for a Congregational church:

“Yesterday was a day that will long be remembered by the people of Port Cygnet, on account of its being the date of most successful services in connection with the laying of the foundation stone of a new Congregational Church. The morning broke fine and clear, and upwards of a hundred excursionists stepped on board the Monarch for the trip from Hobart Town. The passage down was exceedingly pleasant, the slight ripple on the water being insufficient to produce that plague of landsmen and women —mal de mer. The port was reached about 1.30 p.m., and the passengers were met by crowds of the inhabitants, who seem to have made the day a holiday, arrived at the site of the church that is to be. The ceremonies in connection with laying of the stone were commenced by the Rev. J. M. Bayley…Prayer was then offered by the Rev. B S. Bird, of Hobart Town, who invoked the Divine blessing on the work about to be commenced….”.

Reverend Bailey described the origins of the movement to build the church:

"The whole of this district was some years since supplied with religious ordinances by the Rev. R. E. Dear, and other agents of the Congregational Mission, but when other denominations entered the field and ordinances were regularly supplied, the Congregationalists withdrew in their favour. ….In August of last year the Rev. W. C. Robinson was invited to preach and to deliver a lecture on the principles of Independent Churches. From that time meetings for worship have been regularly held, but the place of meeting being unsuitable, the friends wished to have a building that would be more in keeping with the solemnities of worship, and which they might regard as their own church”.

The building completed and opened in November 1879. The Mercury once again provides details of this occasion:


“The formal opening of a new Congregational Church which has recently been erected at Port Cygnet, took place under very favourable circumstances. The foundation stone of the building was laid about twelve months ago, and Divine service was conducted for the first time on Sunday last by the Rev. George Clarke. To enable visitors from Hobart Town to be present at the formal opening, the favourite steamer Monarch was chartered to make an excursion trip to and from Port Cygnet….The steamer did not cast off from the wharf until nearly 9 o'clock, …The destination of the excursionists was reached after about four hours' steaming, and shortly after arrival a luncheon was held in the church, which is a neat weatherboard structure, Gothic in style. It is lighted by Gothic windows, and ornamented with a belfry….The total cost of the building, inclusive of the purchase of the land, and providing for the plastering, which had yet to be done, was about £250. Of that sum, only about £70 or £80 had been subscribed, so that the balance was required.”


The enthusiasm for building an Independent church at Port Cygnet following Reverend Robinson’s visit to the settlement in 1877 soon dwindled and by the mid 1880’s the church was experiencing financial difficulty. In 1889, the incumbent, Reverend N. Coombs, complained to the Congregational Union that he “considered it inadvisable to continue this church” and that “the collection would not pay for kerosene” [for lighting]. Subsequently the church “passed into the charge of the Wesleyan’s” who purchased the building in 1890.

Following the Wesleyan’s acquisition of the church, the small timber church used by the Methodists, which had also opened in 1879, was moved behind the former Congregational church where it became a Sunday school.

The history of Cygnet’s original Wesleyan church and the growth of the Methodism in the town with form the topic of a future article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

Cygnet's former Congregational church and later the Cygnet Methodist church. The original Methodist church can be seen at the rear of the building. Source: A detail taken from a Bailey postcard of Methodist Church at Lovett c.1910.

The who churches - The Congregational church to the left and the original Methodist church on the right of the photo: Source: Libraries Tasmania - PH40-1-62

Sources:

Mercury, Saturday 19 June 1875, page 3
Tribune, Wednesday 9 October 1878, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 9 October 1878, page 2
Mercury, Tuesday 11 November 1879, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 7 March 1889, page 3
Huon Times, Friday 5 September 1830, page 2
Huon and Derwent Times, Thursday 3 October 1935, page 6

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